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Paper Writing - Research paper – topic choice

Paper Writing - Research paper – topic choice

Author: Kristina Jacobs

To learn how to make an educated choice when choosing a paper topic.

This packet discusses strategies to use when deciding on a topic for a paper.

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Research topic choice

Too many choices toy container graphic



Try Clustering! Clustering is a pre-writing activity similar to brainstorming. Start with your potential paper topic, for example "School violence" then free associate all the words you can think of that are related to school violence. This is a good way to explore what directions you want to take your research in, before you write the paper!


Here is an example:


Clustering diagram for school violence research paper topic


Save time! Pick a good research topic

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Choosing a topic for your research paper is an important step in the writing process. A bad topic choice for a research paper will cost you a lot of extra time in looking for sources to use to support your arguments. If your topic doesn't offer enough quality information, it will be hard to find enough scholarly sources and you'll be creating a lot of extra frustration for yourself!

     Luckily, there are tips and tricks that you can use to make a good topic choice and get your research paper done faster!

Check for an "approved" list of assignment topics

For some assignments, students are given a list of topics to choose from, this can be helpful since the teacher or professor has probably already checked to make sure that there are sources for you to use in your research in order to write the research papers on their approved topic list. If this is the case, pick the topic that is most interesting to you and go for it!

Too broad? Use a Venn diagram to narrow your research focus

Even when there is an approved list of topic choices to choose from, sometimes the topic may be too broad for what the student wants to cover in one research paper. In this case, it is helpful to use a Venn diagram to narrow the topic into a more focused research paper.

Here is an example of a Venn diagram for the suggested research topic:


Venn diagram


Narrow the topic by finding a group of related sources

Another tip is to narrow the focus of a research paper topic using background reading on the subject. One quick search of Google Scholar or a library database can give you a list of articles on your topic. Once you start seeing groups of articles that are related to each other, it might give you ideas for how to narrow your topic further.


Google Scholar

Google Scholar results

Narrow your topic by getting some perspective

If your main paper topic starts out as SCHOOL VIOLENCE it might be hard to cover all aspects of school violence in one research paper. For example, are you going to cover Bullying? High school violence? Gun violence? School fights? Whose point of view are you going to represent? The student? The teacher? The state/government? The parent? Picking a perspective can help you narrow the focus of your research paper.

Topic too narrow! Help, I can't find anything!

Reverse engineer your topic. For example, if I wrote my paper on school violence and focused in on bullying in school, but now I don't have enough information to finish the entire 20 pages I can expand the topic by adding an additional perspective or a related subtopic to my paper. I might expand upon a paper about bullying in high school from the student perspective and add information about the role and responsibility of the school. I could also go in a different direction and add information about how cyber bullying effects high school students. You can add as many perspectives or additional related subtopics as you need to finish the page requirement for the research paper assignment.

One Tree Hill Episode on School Violence

One Tree Hill slide show from an episode on school violence. Topics that are seen in current media (TV, news) or that are currently being debated are usually good topics to grab a reader's interest.

A video news report about school violence

This is a brief video showing talking about school violence and a foiled plan for school violence and how to prevent school violence.

New terminology

Research paper- Unlike other types of writing, a research paper is focused on creating an argument or presenting information on a topic that is backed by research and sources outside of the author themselves. A research paper is more formal than other types of writing. Research papers require in text citations as well as references to all work that is consulted in order to write the paper. Research papers are often longer than other types of papers and can run 10-25 pages for a typical high school level or college research paper, but can be much longer for professional level research papers.

Clustering- Clustering is a way of grouping ideas for a paper so that they support the arguments that the author wants to make. Clustering can be used as a pre-writing exercise, similar to brainstorming. You start with the main idea of your paper and write it in the center of the page. Next, using free association, start writing all of the words that you associate with your paper topic in a circle surrounding the main topic. Follow each line of thinking from the broadest words that you associate with the topic to more and more detailed information. This method allows you to explore the potential directions for your paper without deciding immediately what order the subtopics should be in and without having to rank the subtopics in level of importance until later on in the writing process.

Source: Kristina Blasen

Elements of a Reseach Paper

Your research paper will need to be written in a formal manner, citing all sources that you have consulted during your research. Depending on your assignment requirements, you may need to adhere to a specific style of writing such as MLA, APA or Chicago style. (If you are not familiar with these styles you can visit the Sophia packets on MLA, APA or Chicago to get some tips).

Your paper will need to include specific sections. These sections are commonly called Introduction, Background, Methodology, Results, Conclusions and Recommendations and References.

In the Introduction section you will introduce your topic and include the thesis statement which is the main idea of your paper.

In the Background section, you will provide background and historical information about your topic and previous research that has been done on your topic.

In the Methodology section you will discuss the method or type of research that you conducted in order to get the information that will be presented in your paper.

In the Conclusions and Recommendations section you will wrap up your paper and provide any final thoughts or suggestions to the reader based on your results or findings.

The References section will include references for all work by any one else that was consulted in order to write your research paper.